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From: catherine yronwode 
Subject: Re: Hoodoo/Conjure (was Re: Can a voodoo priest answer ...?)
Date: Sun, 18 May 1997 18:55:52 -0800

nagasiva wrote:
> catherine yronwode  wrote:
> > Jonathan Alexander wrote:
> > 1. When is it a good time to use voodoo?
> >Vodoun or Voodoo is a religion. One does not "use" a religion. 
> >However, there is something called "New Orleans Voodoo" which is 
> >actually a combined form of debased Vodoun and African-American 
> >Hoodoo.
> do you have sources on this Hoodoo?  

For extensive early material on hoodoo, see Zora Neale Hurston's 1935
folklore study "Men and Mules." She documented hoodoo practices in her
native Florida and also in New Orleans. A brief but earlier still
reference can be found in Black Herman's book of stage magic, at the end
of which he gives a few spells and formulas for "conjure," another name
for hoodoo. His book was published in 1925. (For those unfamiliar with
him, Black Herman was an African-American stage magician who also worked as an occultist, herbalist, and philanthropist. He died in 1934.)
Catalogues of the King Novelty Co. and others from the 1930s and 1940s
supply much information. The best contemporary book (dating from 1976,
but revised in the late 1980s) is "Voodoo and Hoodoo" by Jim Haskins, an
African-American author.  

> does it originate as a reflection
> of Vo(u)doun as does the debased version you mention?   

As best i can determine (and in this i concur with Haskins, who is an
excellent source), hoodoo is the remnant of the *magical* component of
West African cultural practices, particularly those of the Yoruba and
Fon people. These practices were formerly integrated into Yoruban and
Fon magico-religious beliefs, but while in Catholic countries slaves
kept some or even much of the religious system, under names such as
Santeria (Yoruban) or Vodoun (Fon), in Protestant countries the slaves
were stripped of much more of their cultural identity and only the
shamanistic or self-working folk-magic portions of the magico-religious
system entdured, as hoodoo or conjure. 

Hoodoo is NOT a "reflection" or derivation of "the debased version" of
vodoun that i mentioned. THAT in fact was an add-on, imported from Haiti
to New Orleans in the wake of the slave rebellion in Haiti in the early
years of the 19th century. Catholic slave owners and their "faithful"
(i.e. unable to escape) slaves who still practiced African religions
emigrated to New Orleans because, having been formerly a French colony,
it was predominently Catholic, unlike most of the rest of the United
States. The slaves brought in quite a bit of vodoun, but in time it
mingled with the already non-religious hoodoo and became "New orleans
voodoo" -- a hybrid of the two. Only in the 1970s, with the Afro-centric
movement, was New Orleans voodoo brought into line with Haitian vodoun
-- at least in part. However, you will still find hoodoo root doctors in
New orleans who say they practice voodoo -- and they do not mean vodoun,
they mean hoodoo, or African-American folk magic. 

> by what social
> influences has it been touched?

Outside of New Orleans, where the influence of Haitians made a mark that
never eroded entirely, the greatest influence on hodoo would have to be
German-Jewish chemists and herbalists of the early to mid 20th
century.It was they who recognized the need that increasingly urbanized
African-Americans had for herbs and formulas that, while easy to aquire
in the rural South, were not readily found in places like Chicago and
Detroit. By listening to their customers and supplying the roots and
herbs that are the basis of hoodoo practice, these Jewish merchants
sustained hoodoo during the Northward movement of the black population
-- while at the same time they introduced, through the books and Jewish
spiritual supplies they sold, a strong stain of Kabalism, German folk
magic, and European Spiritualism into hoodoo. 

I, by the way, am one of those German-Jewish spiritual supply merchants. 

The influx of Cuban refugees to the U.S. in the 1970s brought with it a
lot of devotees of Santeria (Yoruba-dereived and Cathoic veneered).
Their influence on hodoo has been quite interesting, and consists in
large part of the reintroduction of concepts like the "Seven African
Powers" (Orishas) into hoodoo practice. 

> >It is a form of folk-magic.In every other part of the country EXCEPT
> >around New Orleans, it is called Hoodoo or Conjure.
> what is it called around New Orleans?  "voodoo"?

Right, but recently, the term "New Orleans voodoo" has gained in
popularity, to distinguish it from vodoun, which is also practied in New
Orleans. Occasionaly you might also see -- in older works -- references
to "Algiers-style voodoo." This refers to the town of Algiers,
Louisiana, not to North Africa. Algiers voodoo is also conjure or hoodoo
with a slight admixture of vodoun, but it is not vodoun per se.  

> >> 4. Have you ever been cursed?
> >Yes, once, by a person who admitted having done so. I broke the curse
> >using an old German technique, the SATOR square.
> please elaborate on this use of this square.  I have *never* heard 
> before of how someone might use this square for magical purposes and 
> have been curious, finding it a fascinating charm.  any idea of its 
> origins, meaning?

The square, as most folks know looks like so: 


In Germany, as early as the late Roman era, it was engraved on silver
plates to use in putting out house fires and on silver money to remove a
fever or other curse. It was also written on parchemnt and the
parchement fed to cattle to keep them from being bewitched. The first
published prescription for its use in the United States that i have seen
is in John George Hohman's "Pow Wows or the Long-Lost Friend,"
translated from the German and published in Pennsylvania in 1820. Almost
unique among books on folk-magic, it has crossed all racial lines and is
just as popular with African-Americans as with European-Americans in the
rural South. It remains in print to this day (and in fact, i sell it in
my online catalogue, if you want a copy).

To more directly answer your question: The woman who cursed me was named Pat. For reasons that were never fully clear to me, as i barely knew
her, she  sent a sudden staph infection into me, resulting in blood
poisoning, while a group of about 50 of us were encamped deep in the
woods, far from medical treatment (between Willits and Fort Bragg, if
you know your California geography). She bragged about having done this
to several of my friends. I was almost immobilized with pain and the
tell-tale red line of blood poisoning was running up my leg. I got a
silver dime (this was in the days before bi-metal dimes had driven them
out of circulation) and ground off the images on both faces. I then
carved the SATOR square on one side and my own personal sigil on the
other. I asked someone to bring Pat to me and, to my surpricse, she
came. I showed her the dime and asked "Do you know what this is?" She
said, "Yes." I said, "Then you know it will put an end to this
mischief," and i threw the engraved dime into the fire. She turned and
walked away. Within an hour my leg had stopped throbbing and by morning
the infection was entirely gone. 
> >> 6. What is a voodoo doll?
> >It is usually a cloth doll in the form of a man or woman, stuffed 
> >with herbs and personalized with something that belonged to the 
> >person one wishes to affect (either for good or for evil). Some folks 
> >make their dolls out of moss and feathers instread of cloth. They may 
> >also be carved of wood. To use the doll, one performs upon it the 
> >operations(again, either for good or evil) that one would like to see 
> >happening to the person thus represented.
> is this not different than the movie-ideals like Indy Jones and the 
> Temple of Doom, where direct scissors-in-back-of-doll creates back-
> breaking pain?

Basically, the principle is the same in all of these, including British
poppets. The term voodoo doll, by the way, is one of the contributions
that New Orleans voodoo made to general Southern hoodo.  Most of
the old-time folks in the rural South still call them doll-babies, though. 

catherine yronwode

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Southern Spirits: 19th and 20th century accounts of hoodoo, including slave narratives & interviews
Hoodoo in Theory and Practice by cat yronwode: an introduction to African-American rootwork
Lucky W Amulet Archive by cat yronwode: an online museum of worldwide talismans and charms
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